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The Drive To Do It

The Drive To Do ItTufts fitness and nutrition expert Miriam Nelson says that running a marathon is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical feat.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.10.06] It's no secret that running a marathon is a grueling endeavor that requires months of preparation. Yet millions of people around the world - including a group of dedicated runners from Tufts - set out to conquer the 26.2 mile journey every year. What exactly does it take to prepare your body to be pushed to its limits? Tufts fitness and nutrition expert Miriam Nelson, one of the nearly 200 members of President Lawrence S. Bacow's "Marathon Challenge" team, can sum it up in one word: "stick-to-it-ive-ness."

"Stick-to-it-ive-ness," the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy associate professor says, is as important as any physical training you do. It's mental stamina, she says, that propels a runner from the first day of training through to the finish line.

"Training is about a 10-month endeavor," explains Nelson, who is also the director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Friedman. For runners preparing for Boston's annual marathon, training starts off slow in the summer, builds up during the fall and reaches its height during the winter, when runs are longest. Training begins to wind down about three weeks prior to the race. "It's a time to allow your body to get fully healed and rested," she says.

In the months leading up to the marathon, Nelson says, running must be a top priority, no matter how scarce time may be.

"It's making a commitment to run it," Nelson says, praising her fellow team members for their dedication. "Students are busy, faculty and staff are busy, President Bacow is busy. You have to look at your calendar each week and find time to run. Squeeze it in."

Nelson says that having the support the Tufts team - and its coach, Don Megerle - makes a world of difference.

"It's a real team atmosphere," she says. "Coach Megerle is the most amazing person in terms of making sure you know what you need to do ... [and] President Bacow is an inspiration."

With Megerle on the sidelines and Bacow leading the Tufts group out of the gate on April 17, Nelson has no doubt that the members of this year's team - a unique collection of graduate and undergraduate students, alumni, faculty, staff, parents and friends of Tufts - will experience both exhilaration and exhaustion before crossing the finish line on Boylston Street.

The toll the race takes on the body, according to Nelson, is significant. She says that, during the race, the body is depleted of a major energy source - glycogen - and relies on fat to fuel it through to the end. Although you may not feel like eating immediately after the marathon, it's important to do so, she says.

Replacing the salt your body loses through sweat is also critical after running a marathon. Nelson recommends grabbing a bag of chips for a quick sodium fix. Then, she says, it's time to give your body a break.

"Generally speaking, take a good week off from activity," she says. "Really rest."

And bask in the thrill of the accomplishment, she adds.


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